Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) athletes are competing at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics are famous for their lack of diversity, partly because many of the events originate from Europe and North America where competitors are predominantly white. However, Beijing 2022 proves to be an interesting occasion as AAPI athletes defend medals for Team USA and chase medals for countries like China, the Philippines, and American Samoa. The reception of AAPI athletes in this Winter Olympics varied from adoration to intense scrutiny.
Of the 224 athletes competing for Team USA in Beijing, very few are part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. However, many of the known AAPI athletes on Team USA are respected trailblazers to their sport. The United States applauded its Chinese American figure skaters who were key to a silver medal win in the team event. In the individual skating events, Americans will cheer on Nathan Chen, Karen Chen, and Alysa Liu, the most likely members to reach the podium. The United States also admires snowboarder, Chloe Kim, as a trailblazer for diversity in the sport. A lesser-known podium hopeful is Korean American Andrew Heo, who will represent the United States in short-track speed skating, an event dominated by South Korea.
Team China is not as keen to welcome American Chinese athletes. California-born skier, Eileen Gu, charmed Chinese audiences in Beijing with her gold medal win in the big air skiing event, but fellow California native, Zhu Li, faced harsh criticism from Chinese fans on social media following her fall in the figure skating team event. The most criticism, however, surrounds China's ice hockey teams where less than half of the players were born in the country. Many of the members are Canadian or US-born, and many adopt a Chinese name like Michigan-born Jieruimi Shimisi, Jeremy Smith, or Canadian Mi Le, Hannah Miller. The Chinese-owned team, Kunlun Red Star, describes these members as "Heritage and Import" players. China chose to include these players to be more competitive against teams like the United States, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), and Canada.
The inclusion of AAPI on Team China and Team USA emphasizes the growing importance of their role in sports and international competition. However, mixed reception poses questions about heritage, authenticity, athletic capability, and how these three elements should craft a national team. China's hockey teams represent AAPI athletes who might have been cut from Team USA but nonetheless meet Olympian standards. Other athletes present on Team USA demonstrate the changing face of predominately white sports. However, there are also AAPI athletes choosing to compete for underrepresented countries like Oregon-born skier, Asa Miller, the only athlete competing for the Philippines, and Princeton alumni, Nathan Crumpton, who will represent American Samoa in skeleton.
The Winter Olympics are a stage for the best athletes to compete, but they are also an international event that emphasizes inclusion and representation. Regardless of political and national tensions, AAPI athletes are competing in Beijing, and their presence helps to change the infamous lack of diversity.
Mimi MacKilligan is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year graduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a double concentration in International Security Studies and Asia.